The Karamazovs

Five weird differences between the classic novel and this experimental reinterpretation.

By Andrew Andrews

Tymberly Canale narrates Anna Brenner’s The Karamazovs as a home health aide at The New Ohio Theatre in the West Village. Original production photos by Maria Baranova.

Theodore Karamazov’s alienated son Dmitri needs money to pay child support for a daughter he didn’t know he fathered, and he’s come calling to the family lake house to ask for a loan against his inheritance.

Meeting him at the home are his estranged half-sisters Viv, a philosophical filmmaker who can’t find anyone to pick up her story, and Alyosha, who’s in-and-out of a monastery to hide from the world.

Liz, a home health aide who lives in the house with Theodore, takes care of the despised old man, who’s slowly dying of cancer.

When Theodore refuses to give the money to Dmitri, drama becomes a recurring event between the two, as well as between Dmitri and his siblings over their traumatic childhood and what Dmitri feels is “rightfully his.”

I won’t pretend I’ve read Dostoevsky’s timelessly-acclaimed The Brothers Karamazov, but based on some quick research, there are more than a few weird differences between the original story and this very loose adaptation that I think any potential audience member should be aware of:

Ross Cowan,Rachael Richman, Tymberly Canale and Mary Tuomanen make up the cast. As with many recent productions, this show’s projected live video distracts and detracts from the performance.
  1. Setting: The original Russian story takes place in about the time and place where it was written in the late 1800’s; this modern tale seems to take place around today, with land-line telephones and an early mention of the Internet.
  2. Gender: In case you haven’t already noticed, two of the original brothers have been replaced by sisters.
  3. Length: While the first English translation reaches almost a thousand pages, this production thankfully clocks in at less than two hours. Many of the subplots from the original—and indeed, many of its characters—have been eliminated or are only briefly mentioned. Theodore himself is only voiced through a hand-held microphone—typically by Liz, who serves as the story’s narrator.
  4. Philosophy: Whereas Dostoevsky used his story as a sounding board for heavy philosophical and theological discussion, such themes are only interjected into this tale, where they typically feel extraneous to the story.
  5. Delivery: The Brothers is considered one of the greatest achievements in classical literature, but this production is highly experimental, combining scripted text with choreographed movement that feels disappointingly stiff, and both live and prerecorded video that only detracts from the performance instead of adding value.

Although the quality of the scenic elements is quite high for a show at this price point, I felt it suffers from the common problem of including too many experimental features at the expense of the aesthetic of the whole.

While the modernization of the story itself is nicely done, it feels better suited for a traditional presentation; and though the voice of Theodore could still be delivered from off-stage for dramatic effect, I’d use another actor who’s not already part of the cast.


Andrew Andrews attended The Karamazovs at New Ohio Theatre in Manhattan on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 @ 7:30pm to write this review.